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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Days of hope in Stuart London

Review by Ben Soton

The Royal Secret by Andrew Taylor. HarperCollins 2021. Hardback: 480pp; RRP: £14.99;

THIS IS the fifth novel in the Marwood & Lovett series set in Restoration London. James Marwood and Cat Lovett are children of Puritan republicans, which puts them in a difficult position under the restored Stuart monarchy. By the fourth novel however, they are both doing rather well for themselves. Marwood works for Lord Arlington, Charles II’s intelligence chief. Meanwhile Lovett owns a thriving architecture business inherited from a late husband. The Royal Secret

Being a male and female in their 20s or early 30s, the novels contain an element of suspense as to whether there will be any romantic involvement between them.

Taylor manages to bring Restoration London to life by giving a warts and all account of the period, covering all social strata from lowly servants to the king himself. Although the message of his novels is somewhat disappointingly pro-monarchy, he correctly points that there were many, including Catherine Lovett’s late husband, who harked back to the Commonwealth. They also show a period rife with corruption where most people seem to be on the take; an atmosphere common to periods of political demoralisation, such as after the collapse of a progressive regime.

The Royal Secret centres around a Dutch plot to disrupt the signing of the Treaty of Dover between Stuart England and Bourbon France. Charles II was expected to convert to the Catholic faith at some later date and support France militarily in a war against the Dutch Republic in return for a £230,000 annual pension, a huge sum of money in those days.

In those days the Dutch Republic was a bastion of Protestant progressive capitalism whilst France at the time represented reactionary feudal absolutism. Many Protestants would sympathise with the Dutch in a similar way as progressives today would side with Cuba, China or People’s Korea.

In the novel Catherine Lovett is tricked by a Dutch coragent into assisting his attempts to disrupt the treaty. Meanwhile a jealous Marwood chases a trail of murder and mayhem involving, amongst other things, a blackmailing servant and a pet lion. The question is will Lovett succumb to the seduction of the mysterious Dutchman, who may attempt to play on her possible republican sympathies? After all, this is a time of divided and complex loyalties – again, not everyone was glad to see the back of the English Republic.

With the main characters still young, I look forward to seeing the adventures of Marwood and Lovett develop as the Stuart monarchy lurches from crisis to crisis until its eventual overthrow in 1688. Meanwhile, Taylor’s novels give an all-round insight into a sometimes-overlooked period in English history.